Exodus 34:29-35 and Luke 9:28-36
Here we are at the last Sunday before Lent, the last Sunday in what has been the season of Epiphany. Epiphany, you know is about revelation and as such our Scripture passages over these last few weeks have focused on showing us who Jesus is and how God’s love is revealed through him.
It began by the Jordan River at Jesus’ baptism when that a voice from heaven spoke “This is my Son the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And this season of Epiphany ends this morning on a mountain top with that same heavenly voice affirming “This is my Son, the Chosen.”
Being clear about who Jesus is, is not just important to the scripture writers and to that Heavenly Voice. Being clear about who Jesus is, is also, important to Jesus.
Earlier in the book of Luke, there is a really tender moment between Jesus and his disciples. It occurs eight days before the passage that was read for us, and it is to which the opening of the scripture for today obliquely references. It is a moment when Jesus has gathered alone with his disciples to pray and then turns to them and asks “Who do the crowds say I am?” and after listening to what they say, I imagine him pausing a moment before continuing “And who do you say that I am?” Without hesitation and with clarity, Peter says quite simply “the Messiah of God.”
Knowing who Jesus is is at the heart of discipleship. We can only follow Jesus with our whole hearts if we have some clarity as to who he is to us. Who is Jesus to you? How would you answer his question? Is he Friend? Savior? Guide? Deliverer? Brother? Messiah of God? Or are you just so curious about that very question, (about who he is) that you want to follow him so you can begin to find out for yourself?
But as important as that question is that Jesus asks “Who do you say that I am?” there is another equally important question that also lies at the heart of discipleship. It is a question that I think is implicit in what Jesus asks and it is also a question about ourselves for which we too must seek an answer. That second question is “who am I?” Relationship necessitates not just knowing the person with whom we are in relationship, relationship also necessitates knowing ourselves. The deeper and richer our knowledge of ourselves, the deeper and richer will the relationship we share with others.
Jesus was fully human and he was being asked by God to take on the hardest and more profound task that any human has ever been asked to take on. So could it be that in his heart of hearts, in those quiet moment of prayer and discernment, he too wondered “Who am I?” And so when Jesus asked that question “who do you say I am” I wonder if there is also a yearning within his own heart to more to be able to see himself more clearly. Could Jesus’ question be as much for his own sense of identity as it is for the clarity of the disciples?
This is the power of a loving community. For sometimes I think it actually easier to see who other people are than it is to see our own selves. I look at you and see you how truly magnificent you are, but sometimes I find I am unrecognizable when I gaze at my own face in the mirror. Having trusted friends that can reflect to us our truest selves is a tremendous gift. It is a gift that we give each other here in this place. When you are passing the peace, looking each other in the face with the warmth of your greeting, you are affirming the belovedness of the one in front of you. When we are in meetings doing the good work of the church and are really listening to what the other has to say and speaking clearly one’s own thoughts that exchange calls forth and reflects our truest selves. There are so many examples here in our life together.
It is tremendously freeing to have a space and a people with whom we can practice being our fullest truest selves. For oftentimes, out there in the world it is not so. Out there we have the pressure to conform to social constructs of how we should be or how we should act.
Recently, I came upon what may be well known to you all this concept of “Imposter’s Syndrome”. Do you know it? Apparently it is a really wide spread phenomenon that speaks to this feeling of not measuring up despite external evidence of the contrary. It is this haunting sense that there must have been a mistake. That you don’t really belong where you are. Imposter syndrome can be kind of a low level anxiety or down right paralyzing fear. I was reading an article about Imposter Syndrome this week and the author quoted the amazingly brilliant author and poet Maya Angelou who shared “I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘uh oh’ they are going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everyone and they are going to find me out.” The author goes on to say that it is quite common for Presidents when they find themselves alone in the Oval Office for the first time to think “I hope nobody finds out I’m in here!”
So I wonder if what enabled Jesus to do all he was being asked to do in the world grew out of a process of becoming increasingly clear within himself about who he was, not just as carpenters son, not just as the first born of Mary but as the Beloved of God?
And if that is true, then we begin to see the passage read for us today, this passage known as the transfiguration, in a new light.
We typically understand the Transfiguration to be for the benefit of the disciples. That it was key in helping them understand who Jesus was. But now I see the disciples as rather peripheral to the whole scene. They practically missed it all together. First they were drifting off in sleep and then when they do awake, they have no clue as to what is going on or why.
Now I have come to see that the transfiguration was for Jesus to more deeply know himself and what was going to be asked of him. He goes up the mountain to talk not with the disciples but with Moses and Elijah. Those great heroes of Jesus faith appear to him and the three of them begin speaking of Jesus’ departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem”. We don’t know what Moses and Elijah said to Jesus but I imagine that they reflected back to Jesus his belovedness and in that his ability to engage all that lay before him in Jerusalem. I imagine they helped him to see his own radiance.
Moses too had such a time of clarification. This encounter between Moses and God on the mountain of Sinai was also very much about identity. Moses goes up to the mountain to receive from God the law that is the foundation of the covenant that gives a new identity to what was a rag tag band of refugees. Moses comes down from that mountain aglow in the glory of God and as such clarifies for the people who they are. In that encounter the identity of the Hebrew people becomes clear. They are not slaves of Pharaoh. They are servants of God. Their lives are not defined by meaningless labor but are full of the labor of meaning making. They are God’s people called to enliven the way of living in companionship with God.
Perhaps some of us have been fortunate enough to have such really extraordinary mountain top experiences for ourselves, when we are given some greater clarity about who we are and are able to see more expansively the landscape of our lives and perhaps even encounter something of God. Perhaps some of us have experienced that glow of coming home to our truest selves, that blessing of getting out from under that imposter’s syndrome if just for a while. But I suspect, that for most of us that question “who am I?” is still very much with us. Who am I now that the kids have moved out of the house? Who am I now that I am retired or lost my job? Who am I now that I have this small baby that is completely dependent on me? Who am I now that my strength is waning? Who am I now that my parent has passed?
The life of faith is marked not just by growing in greater clarity about who Jesus is. The life of faith is also marked by growing in greater clarity about who we are. If Epiphany was about greater clarity about who is Jesus; can we let Lent be about searching and finding greater clarity about who we are? Can we let these upcoming 40 days be ones that take us into the wilderness of our own discovery and can we ask someone close to us the question Jesus asked to those dear to him “Who do you say that I am?” Can we be brave enough to ask that question and open enough to hear what those that love us have to say? Can we also follow Jesus’ lead and take that question into prayer? Can we make that question perhaps the prayer of our heart and see to what mountaintop it may lead us?
As a final thought. I read recently an article on Pope Francis’ teaching on Lent. In it he encouraged people to take up practices of self-examination during this season, but he made a really important point. He said that our self-reflection and increase of self-knowledge, our ability to answer more clearly that question “Who am I” must not lead us to self-absorption or indifference to others. But must instead lead us to greater engagement with the world. For when we can rest in acceptance of who we are, it is then that we are freed to bring our talents and gifts out into the world without hesitation or fear.
Full of the confidence and freedom that self- knowledge brings, Jesus will now walk the path that will lead him to the cross and beyond. May such confidence and freedom be true self knowledge be for us as well as we seek to follow him. Amen